Smoking Sinai

Based on a complete discourse by
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
Shavuot, 5564-1804

by Rabbi David Rothschild



A Chassidic discourse is the most developed form of the inner Torah. Every word is sculpted by Divine Inspiration. Delivered to coincide with a weekly Torah reading or Jewish festival, these discourses make a spiritual connection with auspicious times.

Concepts from Kabbala and Zohar are developed to perfection. Their relevance to the Five Books of Moses and Tanach (Old Testament) as well as passages from the Talmud is expounded upon. This reveals their "inner meaning."

These discourses presuppose a familiarity with Torah. Perhaps for these reasons, only a handful has been translated into English and published as books by the Kehot Publication Society.

Over the course of two hundred years, the Lubavitcher Rebbes delivered thousands of discourses. Now for the first time they are being made public on the Internet.

In the texts that follow an attempt was made to abridge and elucidate their content. To provide background information for difficult terms and concepts, additional material from other Chassidic discourseshas been added. The remaining content is a free translation.



Part 1 (of 2)


I. Holy Smokes
Mountain Burn
Four Elements
Cosmic Combustion
Space,-Time, Spirit
Reincarnation Incarceration
Soul Source
Soul Smoke


I. Holy Smokes

Mountain Burn

Smoke played an integral role when G-d gave Moses the Torah. "And Mount Sinai was completely a smoke because G-d descended upon it in fire (Exodus 19:18). "And all the people saw the thunder and lightning, and the sound of the shofar, and the mountain in smoke; when the people saw it, they became uneasy and stood far away" (Exodus 20:15). "And Moses approached the thick darkness where G-d was" (Exodus 20:18).

Kabbala reveals the secret of smoke (oshon). The three letters of its Hebrew spelling are themselves the initial letters of three other words: olom, which means world; shana, which means time; and nefesh, which means soul. These three fundamental components of creation correspond to the Three Lower Worlds of Creation (Briah), Formation (Yizirah), and Action (Asiah).

Smoke then, portrays the three building blocks of reality: space, time and soul. Space refers to the lowest World of Action; time represents the World of Formation; and soul corresponds to the World of Creation.

Four Elements

Physical smoke provides an illustration for this concept. What produces smoke? A piece of wood is composed of aspects of the four elements. Its predominate components, though, are air, water and soil. When a flame is put to wood, the element of fire consumes its spiritual elements of air, water and soil. Unable to persevere inside the wood, the three elements return above to be subsumed within their particular spiritual sources.

The wood's rising smoke is actually its former elements of air, water and soil. While nature's fourth element of fire, burns up the wood. Only ashes, derived from the element of soil, are left behind. Absolutely nothing remains of the wood's aspects of air and water.

Cosmic Combustion

Wood serves as an analogy for the Three Lower Worlds. The World of Creation corresponds to the element of air. Below Creation stands The World of Formation, which represents water. And the bottommost World of Action manifests the element of soil.

Fire, though, refers to the supernal World of Emanation (Atzilut) where infinite Divine Light shines. Hence the aforementioned verse says, "G-d descended upon it in fire." Divine fire descended into the Three Lower Worlds and affected their purification and nullification. Then, in a refined state, they ascended above.

Each of the Three Worlds returned to its original source in the World of Emanation. There they merged into Emanation's revealed light. What remained below? Only the coarsest aspect of The World of Action, which corresponds to the most elementary aspect of soil, stayed behind.

Now the Mount Sinai verse can be understood: "And Mount Sinai was completely asmoke because G-d descended upon it in fire." What does 'completely denote in relation to fire? After G-d's flame affected the spiritual incineration and cleansing of the Three Lower Worlds, they "went up in smoke." Smoke manifested their post-purification aspect. Only the Worlds' residue remained on earth.

What's more, the Three Lower Worlds utterly ceased to exist as independent entities. For, by means of G-d's fire, they rose into the World of Emanation. There they became one with Emanation's infinity. Even their spiritual state of being didn't persevere.

Space-Time Spirit

As mentioned earlier, the Hebrew spelling of smoke stands for world, time and soul. What do these terms actually refer to? G-d emits a diminished life-force to enact the creation process. Each created realm receives its appointed measure of life-force, necessary for its existence. The spatial extension of that life-force into a particular created realm is called "world." The duration this life-force continues to operate there is called "time." This means space-time is really a radiated G-dly light.

"Soul," generally speaking, refers to an aspect of Divinity which is so transcendent that it is beyond the possibility of shining below. It pertains to the ultimate source of the descending life-force: the attribute of Kingship of the World of Emanation.

Emanation, as we have seen, remains, even after Creation, adjacent to G-d's infinity. That's why its lights and vessels illuminate end endlessly. It's just that a veil - representing the leap of value from finitude to infinity, separates Emanation from the Three Lower Worlds. In order to provide them with life-sustaining power, infinity must be metamorphosed into a lower-level "finite" light (space-time). Following sundry constrictions and coverings, Kingship of Emanation's life-force reaches the created Worlds. But the seferah of Kingship, itself, doesn't abandon its position in Emanation.

Reincarnation Incarceration

An allegory for Kingship of Emanation and the life force that descends from it is provided by reincarnation. Sometimes a soul must endure rectification for misdeeds and the like. So G-d sends it back into the world inside a plant or an animal. The entire essence of the soul is trapped within the animal.

Souls are constructed of many levels, one enveloping the next. For example, souls possess all the faculties of intellect and emotions. They have spiritual powers such as the ability to think, speak and act. Its core directs these faculties together with life empowering light, down into the body. What occurs when the soul enters an animal's body? Animals don't think, speak or write compositions. What happened to the soul's powers?

In such circumstances, the hostage soul does not radiate its life-force or attributes. Rather, the original core-state of the soul is, so-to-speak, squeezed into the animal. It remains helpless, unable to illume forth its life-force.

Soul Source

Every Jew's essence of the soul remains above. Only a slight radiation descends to enliven a body. Once inside, both body and soul- radiation are united as one. But its original source -- the soul's essence -- remains existentially aloof from even the possibility of emitting life-force.

As mentioned earlier, the soul's source is in the attribute of Kingship of the World of Emanation. Since Emanation precedes the creation of space-time, soul essences encompass a person's consciousness. Sometimes, pangs of repentance 'trickle down' from the soul essence. This is especially true during the Days of Repentance, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

In its sublime state, the soul source resembles Kingship of Emanation. It too is abstracted above the world: only its radiation forms space-time.

Soul Smoke

But Mount Sinai's incineration, symbolized by the Hebrew word for smoke, included the aspect of soul. If soul is beyond creation, how was it transformed into smoke?

Mount Sinai manifested the corporeality of the Three Lower Worlds. Their existence, we have seen, is actually the external aspect of Kingship's life-force. And when Mount Sinai "completely" smoked - space, time and soul ascended to their source.

The downward expansion of life-force into each particular realm refers to "world"; its duration is "time." And the life-force itself is called "soul." This doesn't refer to the essence of the soul; just it's radiated life-force. So life-force accomplishes three simultaneous tasks. Its effluence is space-time. And it re-creates that space-time every instant from a state of absolute void into the appearance of separate reality.

G-d's Light, symbolized by fire, consumed the worlds. Space-time and its life-force, rose upward to their source in the essence of Kingship of Emanation. Previously radiated life-force rejoined its ultimate origin - the essence of the soul. That, which had been combined with the Lower Three Worlds now became nullified, enveloped and unified with the "Supernal Oneness" of Emanation. The Zohar describes this state as "being one with One."

[on to Part 2]


[Rabbi David Rothschild is the founder and editor of Nefesh Magazine.]


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